Cas­tle cen­tral of Por­tu­gal

The unesco World Her­itage site and the play­ground of Por­tu­gal’s rich and fa­mous boasts some spec­tac­u­lar palaces.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TRAVEL - By MIKE CORDER

WITH sun­shine bathing its multi-coloured fa­cades against a back­drop of deep blue sky, the Pena Palace in Sin­tra is like a cas­tle seen through a kalei­do­scope.

A jumble of bright yel­low domes, red tow­ers, blue tiles, a draw­bridge and a half-man, half-fish sculp­ture hold­ing up a win­dow, the Pena Palace is lauded as the finest ex­am­ple of Por­tuguese ro­man­ti­cism, an eclec­tic mix that bor­rows style notes from, among oth­ers, the Moors, Ger­man gothic re­vival and the lo­cal Manue­line ar­chi­tec­ture.

Fer­nando II, hus­band of Por­tuguese Queen Maria II, had the palace built in the 1840s around the re­mains of a derelict monastery. Now tourists can wan­der through its or­nate rooms and over­sized kitchens as well as its sprawl­ing gar­dens, fea­tur­ing plants brought back from around the world and ponds where carp and black swans drift lan­guidly around crenelated duck houses.

And Pena is far from the only spec­tac­u­lar palace in Sin­tra, long a play­ground of royalty and the os­ten­ta­tiously wealthy. The town’s al­ti­tude and shady forests have his­tor­i­cally pro­vided wel­come re­lief from swel­ter­ing sum­mer tem­per­a­tures of the Por­tuguese cap­i­tal, Lis­bon, which is now only a halfhour’s drive away.

Bang in the mid­dle of the old town is the Na­tional Palace with its dis­tinc­tive con­i­cal chim­neys. A cou­ple of kilo­me­tres into the lushly forested hills is the Palace of Mon­ser­rate – once vis­ited by Bri­tish poet Lord By­ron – sur­rounded by man­i­cured gar­dens and what is billed as the first lawn planted in Por­tu­gal.

And if your eyes tire of all the pala­tial pomp, you can re­tire for a morn­ing to the cool con­fines of a 16th century monastery, where Fran­cis­can fri­ars lived in ex­treme aus­ter­ity, pro­vid­ing a stark con­trast to Sin­tra’s ex­plo­sion of ar­chi­tec­tural ex­cesses.

Over­look­ing it all are the well­p­re­served re­mains of an 8th century Moor­ish fort, whose re­stored ram­parts cling to a hill­top above Sin­tra and of­fer spec­tac­u­lar views of the At­lantic Ocean and the Pena Palace on an ad­ja­cent hill.

The wealth of his­toric build­ings led Unesco to in­scribe the en­tire Sin­tra “Cul­tural Land­scape” on its World Her­itage List in 1995, say­ing its “struc­tures har­monise indige­nous flora with a re­fined and cul­ti­vated land­scape cre­ated by man as a re­sult of lit­er­ary and artis­tic in­flu­ences”.

Nowhere can that be bet­ter seen than in the grounds of the Palace of Mon­ser­rate, a sum­mer res­i­dence for 19th century Bri­tish tex­tile mil­lion­aire Fran­cis Cook, whose gar­dens in­clude a folly of a ru­ined chapel with an Aus­tralian banyan tree draped over its walls, a man­made wa­ter­fall, a val­ley full of tree ferns from Aus­tralia and New Zealand, cacti from Mex­ico and a Chi­nese mourn­ing cy­press in the mid­dle of the steeply slop­ing lawn.

The palace it­self is no less spec­tac­u­lar, with three dome-topped (right and in­set) the beau­ti­ful Palace of Mon­ser­rate which was once vis­ited

by bri­tish poet Lord by­ron. the Home ranch: di­rect train from Lis­bon takes about 40 min­utes. From the train sta­tion, bus No. 434 runs through town, past the Na­tional Palace and up to the Pena Palace and Moor­ish Cas­tle. bus No. 435 runs to the Mon­ser­rate Palace. you need a car to get to the monastery. you can rent a car at the Lis­bon air­port. Sin­tra is about 27km (17 miles) from Lis­bon, about a half-hour drive. tow­ers con­nected by a cor­ri­dor full of or­nately carved arches and col­umns. It is not hard to imag­ine Lord By­ron wan­der­ing from a piano recital in the north­ern tower’s mu­sic room to the nearby bil­liards room be­fore strolling past pan­els of In­dian alabaster carved in Mogul style to the li­brary, where he could pen a verse amid the dark wal­nut book­shelves.

All of the build­ings around Sin­tra are open to the pay­ing pub­lic and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, of­fer­ing a glimpse back in time to the days when Por­tu­gal was a wealthy sea­far­ing na­tion ruled by a monar­chy with a pen­chant for palaces.

Walk­ing from or­nate bed­rooms to tiled bath­rooms of the palaces and gaz­ing at their huge kitchens gives an idea of the sump­tu­ous lives of the Por­tuguese roy­als and their guests and it is easy to feel why they flocked here from Lis­bon in the sum­mer when you stroll through the shaded gar­dens, catch­ing glimpses of the ocean and sur­round­ing hills.

But in a coun­try cur­rently buck­ling un­der Euro­pean Union­man­dated bud­getary aus­ter­ity mea­sures, the pared-back sim­plic­ity of the Moor­ish cas­tle and the Ca­pu­chos Con­vent also leave last­ing im­pres­sions.

The cas­tle was built by Moors in the 9th and 10th cen­turies, grad­u­ally fell into dis­re­pair and was re­stored in the 19th century by none other than Fer­nando II, the queen’s con­sort re­spon­si­ble for neigh­bour­ing Pena Palace.

A short drive into the hills, aus­ter­ity is taken to its ex­tremes at the Fran­cis­can monastery known as the Con­vent of the Holy Cross of Cork Con­vent, built in 1560 and in­hab­ited un­til 1834. Here, the only nods to­wards any kind of dec­o­ra­tion are the 18th century azulejo tiles in its Chapel of the Pas­sion of the Christ. Else­where, doors to dor­mi­tory rooms are built de­lib­er­ately small so that monks have to bow in hu­mil­ity just to get into the cramped quar­ters, and doors and shut­ters are lined with cork har­vested from trees in the sur­round­ing for­est.

Sit­ting on the steps of the monks’ grain store in the shadow of a lean­ing cork oak look­ing at the sim­ple stone build­ings that blend into the woods, Sin­tra and its palaces seem a world away. — AP

More info, go to: www.vis­it­por­tu­gal.com/en/NR/ex­eres/6BEF1189D6BD-4473-856B-604FCEF22106

Stun­ning: the beau­ti­ful mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Sin­tra, Por­tu­gal. — Pho­tos from Wikimedia Commons

the ma­jes­tic Pena Palace

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